Policy Dialogue on Sustainability

Policy Dialogue on Sustainability:

A New Model – The Case of the Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change

Paper by Wayne Visser and Margaret Adey


Dialogue is often loosely touted as an approach to tackling sustainability challenges and resolving sustainability dilemmas or conflicts, especially through the process of stakeholder dialogue. However, the literature is more sparse on the role of companies in pro-active, pro-sustainability policy dialogue, as opposed to the practice of corporate lobbying against proposed sustainability regulation. This paper seeks to address this gap by analysing a particularly innovative case study, The Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change. The paper follows the structure of introducing the concept of dialogue, reviewing the literature on sustainability dialogue and describing and evaluating the case study.


Ellinor and Gerard (1998) describe dialogue as a foundational communication process that assists in creating environments of high trust and openness, with reflective and generative capacities.

The word dialogue stems from the Greek roots ‘dia’ (i.e. through) and ‘logos’ (i.e. word or meaning). Although relatively new to modern-day organisational practices, dialogue can be traced to ancient Greece, as described in The Dialogues of Plato (1898) and to forms of communication used by Native Americans and other indigenous peoples. Aspects of dialogue can also be found within Quaker spiritual and business practice, in counselling models such as those of Carl Rogers, as part of certain Eastern meditation practices, and in the philosophical works of Martin Buber (Gerard & Teurfs, 1996).

There are numerous approaches to dialogue. For example, Slotte and Hämäläinen (2003) contrast the Bohmian dialogue, as developed by physicist David Bohm (1996) and championed by Senge (1990) and Isaacs (1999), with Socratic dialogue, inspired by Socrates but developed as specific approach by the philosopher and educationalist Leonard Nelson (1965). The Center for Creative Learning (1996) identify a broader range of perspectives on dialogue, based on the work of Chris Argyris (around organisational learning), David Bohm (around developing shared meaning), David Johnson and Roger Johnson (around cooperation and productivity), Jack Mezirow (around the conditions for rational discourse), and Paulo Freire (around educational transformation).

Among its more modern organisational applications, dialogue can form an integral part of continuous learning, diversity management, conflict exploration, problem solving, leadership development, team-building, organizational planning and culture change (Ellinor and Gerard 1998). Some of these applications adopt a very specific approach and set of techniques, such as the Decision Structuring dialogue method, which uses an agenda or topic as a starting point, focusing both on content (i.e. the issue under discussion) and process (i.e. the way the issue is discussed) and following a series of prescribed steps led by a facilitator (Slotte and Hämäläinen 2003).

Dialogue and sustainability

It would appear, however, that little or none of these perspectives and approaches on dialogue have been applied directly by sustainability scholars. Rather, dialogue most often appears in the sustainability literature in a looser sense as “stakeholder dialogue”, incorporating business ethics (Garcia-Marza, 2005), corporate social responsibility (Jonker & Nijhof, 2006), corporate accountability (Rasche & Esser, 2006) and environmental management (Perret, 2003) …

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Related pages

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”info” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-age-of-responsibility”]Page[/button] The Age of Responsibility (book)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.cpsl.cam.ac.uk”]Link[/button] Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership (website)

Cite this article

Visser, W. & Adey, M. (2007) Policy Dialogue on Sustainability: A New Model – The Case of the Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change, Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership Paper Series, No. 3.

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